With the weather tending towards the cold and gloomy and finances feeling the post-Xmas pinch, January has traditionally been a quietish month for both Bristol’s restaurants and its comedy scene.
Not so much over the past couple of years, however – thanks to the efforts of Mark Olver, Bristol-based comedian and the man who makes more good stuff happen on the local comedy scene than anyone else.
Back in January 2018, Mark ran the first instalment of Belly Laughs – stand-up comedy gigs in independent restaurants around town, showcasing Bristol’s comic and culinary talent alike.
That first year was a great success, and Belly Laughs returned, bigger, in January 2019. January 2020 sees the third annual instalment – and, yes, it’s bigger again. And, excitingly, we’re involved.
Bristol24/7 is media partner for 2020’s Belly Laughs, meaning that we’re all across the gigs in print and online. And you can also buy tickets for each gig from our site. We’re excited to support local businesses and comedians – and to help work towards a pressing local cause, with profits from this year’s ticket sales going to Bristol homeless charity and night shelter The Julian Trust.
Belly Laughs with Bristol24/7 will see big-name as well as less-known comedians perform in 14 food and drink locations in and around Bristol – increasing footfall for food businesses at a quiet time of year as well as supporting The Julian Trust, which runs an emergency night shelter on Little Bishop Street in St Paul’s for homeless people and rough sleepers.
So, how does it work? Each café or restaurant hosts a night, and you can book tickets for whichever gig(s) you like – but you won’t know, until you get there, who’ll be performing. Fourteen venues are currently confirmed, from Hart’s Bakery near Temple Meads and Bean Tree Cafe in Staple Hill, with a strong showing around Wapping Wharf. Most tickets will include not only a night of top-quality comedy, but a meal as well. More dates will be confirmed in the coming weeks.
So, Mark, tell us how and why Belly Laughs came into being. “It came about because I love the Bristol food scene, follow lots of the restaurants on social media, and a few years ago noticed how many of them do special deals in January,” Mark explains.
“I realised that, if restaurants have to work to get people in during January, I could offer them gigs in their venues, a way of getting bums on seats – and then it made perfect sense to use this to help out local charities. It all happened, from idea to first gig, in about three weeks. And now we are on year three.”
And how has Belly Laughs changed since its 2018 debut? “The gigs have got bigger. More audiences, more venues, more comedians, because people know the gigs are fun and more people want to come play. But, at heart, they are the same shows: great comedy in places you wouldn’t always expect to find great comedy.”
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Naturally, the organisational side has changed a little as well. “For the first two years it was all me, on my phone, Tweeting about the gigs while in TV studios and on trains and doing the ticketing myself.
“As we started to grow I needed help so I’ve got Alex from the great At The Sauce podcast helping with a lot of the organisational stuff. Bristol 24/7 have been brilliant from the beginning, writing about us, helping people know about us, and so working even closer with them didn’t even feel like a change.
“I am a very proud Bristolian and so working with Better Bristol just makes sense to me, and being able to sell tickets directly through Bristol 24/7 and Eventbrite makes sense. Comedians still talk about the olden days of Venue magazine, and nowadays Bristol 24/7 does what Venue used to do: lets us all know what is going on in the city.”
Any new venues you’re excited to welcome on board this year? “Wing’s Diner at the Small Bar. There’s a few new places this year: Masa and Mezcal on Stokes Croft, Gambas at Wapping Wharf… But I love Wing’s. It’s my favourite.”
There will be some new faces up on stage, too. “I did a few gigs for FareShare South West in their Bristol warehouse back in November, and was recommended Dani Johns and Eva Bindeman – two fairly new acts in Bristol whom I hadn’t seen. I was blown away by both of them. Brilliant and naturally funny.”
Mark’s chuffed to be fundraising for the Julian Trust and its homeless shelter. “I always wanted the heart of the project to be as local as possible. I love local businesses because you can make a connection, know where your money is going, where the food is coming from, and I think local charities are the same. I love being able to help organisations in Bristol.”
Belly Laughs with Bristol24/7 takes place at independent cafes and restaurants across Bristol throughout January. For the full rundown, visit our Comedy listings at www.bristol247.com/whats-on/comedy